Last week at the TPM Café Todd Gitlin posted a letter the Times hadn't seen fit to print. Gitlin actually went back through Brooks' war columns looking for any evidence of Bobo's intelligence "being insulted by administration officials ignoring the realities of Iraq," as Brooks claimed in that execrable "Multiple Reality Syndrome" column a couple weeks ago. He didn't find any. Oh, I should have warned you to sit down first.
Smattered among the comments were the usual "Everyone knows Brooks is a shill," and "Why do you bother to read him?" Now, I understand these comments are conversational, the way your brother-in-law might say, "I never liked Sandra Bullock" around the dinner table, but still I've never quite understood them. Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist in the friggin' Times. He's on "News Hour." His various prevarications are largely road-show versions of the GOP's manufactured talking points. He doesn't go away when you close your eyes.
I'm not being defensive, by the way, because nobody cares whether I waste my time on him or anything else. It must be something chemical. My mother was throwing a fit at my sister one time because she found crayon all over her bedroom wall, and I sheepishly admitted I was responsible. "Oh," she said, sternly, "that's different." But I'm watching Shields and Brooks on "News Hour" the other night wondering why nobody ever calls him on his ever-morphing worldview. This is Jim Lehrer, after all, the guy who's so concerned about the morality of politicians that in the 2000 Debates he went out of his way to prove Al Gore was a liar, even if he had to make up the evidence himself, and then was enough of a man to apologize when he was caught, except he tacked on another lie at the end to explain the first one. But "journalists" get the courtesy rate.
Anyway, here's David:
Over the past few years, the Iraq war has morphed from a war of liberation against Saddam into a civil conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.
You just have to marvel, don't you? He can't even reach the first comma without a curious distortion of the facts. Few means "not many but at least three". But we've been in Iraq just shy of 33 months, and it's been a couple less than that since the one morphed into the other (although it didn't). Nit-picking? No. It's the opening freaking sentence of the piece. I glanced at the thing and thought, "What the hell are you talking about? How difficult is it to recast that sentence so it's accurate? Brooks may be famously sloppy in the construction of arguments, but he usually has a program in mind to start off with. Is there some reason to say the war has been going on "a few" years? We'll see.
And beyond that, a single declarative sentence disperses with WMDs, Operation Shifting Rationale, the mishandling of post-war Iraq, and the complex nature of the insurgency, then sinks the foundation of his current argument on the loose sand of the historical rewrite. It's the last twenty-five years of Right-Wing talking points in a nutshell. The Iraq war did not "moph into" a Sunni-Shiite civil war. An insurgency rose in response to our incompetent occupation after the war had ended. I know "Mission Accomplished" and "major combat operations have ended" are painful memories for your side, Dave, but the point has never been that Bush spoke prematurely. The point is that we got into a war without the people in charge having an inkling we might face a significant popular uprising as a result of occupying the country we'd just "liberated". But Brooks has found an explanation for that:
American policy makers and think-tank Johnnies have not really looked at Iraq in the broader context of these other conflicts. That's in part because when Americans think of civil war, we tend to think of our own Civil War, which was utterly atypical.
Well, that explains the CNN expert retired Lt. General I saw a couple years back, the one who was insisting we needed to get the cavalry more Springfield repeaters.
It's also because American experts were almost all trained to think about wars between nations, even though civil wars are nine times more common.
If, however, you do happen upon the Journal of Peace Research, where specialists do write about civil wars, you find that their broad perspective helps you see Iraq in clear and refreshing ways.
I used to worry because every time I'd take on a Brooks column it seemed I spent way too much time on the first two paragraphs. But I've come to realize the reason for that is he never has enough of an argument to last much beyond the first 100 words. You can now fill in the rest of the column for yourself. David Brooks, columnist for the once-important New York Times, has written an entire column explaining, nay a topic about which he knows next to nothing, but which he was able to google up, put a subscription on his Times credit card, and learn enough to lecture everybody else on the subject. Because, miraculously, the facts precisely support his argument.
And when you look at this civil conflict -- or civil war if you want to call it that -- you see how typical it is of many of the civil wars we've seen in the world over the past six decades. Over that time, there have been 225 civil wars, and many of them have featured the same sort of insurgency and counterinsurgency, the same ethnic feuding and the same pattern of elections intermingled with violence that we see in Iraq today.
Wars are too important to be left to the generals--call in the actuaries! Brooks may just have googled himself up a way to morph the Iraq war into one of his pseudo-sociological Bobo tales.
I think this is the idea behind that "few years" remark. One of the lessons Professor Brooks wants to school us in is that the "median" civil war last about six years. So if we're a few years in, it's just a few more till we're out again. Hang in there, America.
[Is it really necessary to point out that Israel has been fighting an insurgency for sixty years now, with no end in sight? Or that most of the civil wars of the last six decades were Cold War proxy fights? And that's without addressing whether any of Brooks' uncited studies actually apply here. Do they accept this level of reasearch from underclassmen at Chicago?]
Of course, not only must America stick around until the clock runs down; the recent orgy of finger-dyeing is an important piece of the puzzle, too:
But the best news out of Iraq last week was that the Sunnis voted joyfully and in large numbers. In what they said and the way they acted, both the Sunnis and Shiites made it clear that while they are engaged in a fierce rivalry, they fervently believe in a democratic and unified Iraq. This is not yet a to-the-death struggle.
What, I wonder, was the second-best news out of Iraq last week? Two things and I'm done with this. One, how is it that David Brooks hasn't "happened upon" Juan Cole, who, among other things, has been pointing out that the Sunni insurgents were actually guarding the polls while encouraging people to vote; voter participation and continued violence are not mutually exclusive. They may tell you that at the Journal of Peace Research, too, but my expense account here is woefully inadequate.
And two, whatever became of the "Detroit is worse than Iraq" routine? We aren't in the middle of a civil war here, but the Right used to insist that despite our stable, centralized government we can't keep the peace in our big cities. But now, Iraqis go to the polls and that spells the eventual dehydration death of anti-government terror? Dammit, there's that vertigo again.
Okay, over to Brooks discussing Bush's speech (sorry, I've lost count. Number six?):
DAVID BROOKS: I was very much struck, and I'm always, when he speaks, A, he is a lot more comfortable then he used to be in these things, but B. the commitment to winning, where he said our objective is winning. I do think that's at the core of who he is and it's always political analysis of, you know, he's going to the midterms; he's got to get them out. I think what we saw there was the real Bush; his objective is winning.
Well, I'm just not going to bother anymore about pointing out that we've been hearing "Bush is much more comfortable speaking in public now" since May 2001, but we've never heard a single pundit who admitted previously that he sounded like a first-grader at a recital with stage fright and a full bladder. But yeah, that "commitment to winning" thing was a real corker, wasn't it?